What does it look like to be an elementary student in Haiti? Two Breton teachers are about to find out firsthand.
For the past few years, students and staff at Breton Elementary have fostered a growing relationship with Institution La Puissance de L’Education, an elementary school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They’ve Skyped with students there, shared virtual read-alouds in French, Creole and English, hosted the Haitian principal for a two-week visit, and even co-created a mural for Grand Rapids’ annual ArtPrize competition. And this month, thanks to a William O. Vandenberg Scholarship and a grant from the East Grand Rapids Schools Foundation, the connection between the two schools will grow a little stronger when two Breton teachers visit the Haitian school.
Katie Vicente, Spanish teacher, and Vikki Boersma, second grade teacher, will travel to Haiti from February 4 through February 8, 2018, visiting the school and meeting students and teachers whose faces are already familiar, thanks to years of long-distance collaboration. Their goals? To learn more about the rich Haitian culture, collaborate with the educators there, and capture the day-to-day life of students in a community that’s both similar to and different from the classrooms in East Grand Rapids.
“One reason we want to go is we feel we’ve exhausted everything we can emulate here, found every book there is about Haiti,” says Vicente. “It’s part of modeling, sharing, and expanding our worldview. Their school is amazing already; we are going down to experience the beauty that’s there. We talk about being global citizens and we’re modeling that for the kids – and maybe someday they’ll be presented with an opportunity to do the same.” Already, Breton students annually observe “Haiti Day,” where they attempt to simulate what it might be like to attend school where water isn’t just at the faucet, electricity is limited, and much of the daily work is done on white boards.
Boersma says the relationship between the two schools began six or seven years ago and was facilitated by a nonprofit, The Power of Education Foundation. One of that group’s representatives, Jen Masternak, will travel with the two teachers in February. The travelers will attend school, do some professional development with the Haitian staff, and are hoping to do some home visits – all with a goal of building stronger connections between both schools.
“Part of our goal is to do an activity there with their community, to remind kids that both groups are a community,” says Boersma. Staff, students, and families will be able to follow Senora Vicente’s and Mrs. Boersma’s journey to Haiti on their blog at: powerofeducation2018.blogspot.com
“I want [our students] to see me as a lifelong learner,” says Vicente. “And although we have this amazing school, they can learn from educators all over the world. We’ve been cognizant that we want to be helpful, but we want the kids to understand we’re also benefitting from the exchange. And at the end of the day, they want to know what it looks like to be a kid there.”